Hankyu Railway – A 15 Minute Miracle

Recently I was on a 12 hour flight contemplating what I thought would be an eternity of reading time which somehow did not come to pass.  I would still recommend Anthony Capella’s ‘Empress of Ice cream’ as good inflight reading, but on this occasion the only thing I could concentrate on, apart from my eight and nine year old companions was the Inflight magazine.

I read that magazine right through, but could I find a film that suited my mood when a book couldn’t?  Well, I admit I was hard-pressed; whether it was a book or a movie – both passive pastimes – what I really wanted was to get horizontal like my sleeping companions had somehow managed.  Nothing Hollywoodesque tempted me, so I found myself scrutinising the blurbs for the Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Singaporean films and found a wonderful gem ‘Hankyu Railway – A 15 Minute Miracle.’

The Hankyu Railway, a 15 minute one way line, is what links the stories of a few characters as they navigate pertinent issues in their respective lives.  A young office worker learns of her fiancés infidelity and exacts revenge while trying to retain her honour; a grandmother with her granddaughter who never encroaches past the accepted boundaries of tolerance, decides to speak the words other have thought but never ventured and brings with it the wisdom and respect of her years.

Much is understood without ever needing to be said, but what is so beautiful about this film and these journeys is that each of these characters does decide to step beyond convention and say something that will make a difference.

The film is based on Hiro Arikawa’s bestselling novel ‘Hankyu Densha’ and it is a tribute to reaching out, to acknowledging another human being, acting on an instinct for the good of humanity.  It is about small acts of kindness, that a few words might somehow change the course of a fellow human being’s life for the better.

It reminds me of another favourite Japanese film, though they are very different.  ‘The Forest of Mogari’ relies less on dialogue and is a story of the human spirit, a meditation on life, death, grief and the necessity of letting go.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

‘Lacuna.’

I love it when a book introduces a new word and uses it sufficiently that you know it’s not fleeting knowledge, something you know for a day and have difficulty recalling a week later.  When that new word is the title of the book, there’s a pretty good chance you will remember it.

Deep water soloA ‘lucuna’ is a space or a void, a deep underwater cave, something hidden, unknown; already we see its metaphorical potential and Barbara Kingsolver puts it to good use in this excellent novel which intertwines the fictional story of 12 year old Shepherd, through historical events of Mexico and the US in the 1930’s and 40’s, including time spent in the household of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and their controversial houseguest Leon Trotsky.

A fan of the film ‘Frida’ beautifully depicted by , I’d met these characters on screen and found them good company in Kingsolver’s story of Shepherd whose socially aspiring Mexican mother ditches her emotionally cool civil servant husband to return to “Isla Pixol” an island off the coast of Mexico.

Shepherd’s skills learned in the kitchen of his island home lead him to mixing plaster for Diego Rivera’s murals “It’s like making dough for pan dulce” where he joins the household as cook and typist for Rivera, his artist wife, Frida Kahlo, and later for their guest, the exiled Communist leader Trotsky.

In this incendiary, revolutionary household, Shepherd listens and observes as egos roar and quake. Baking all day, he records the dramas of this entourage by night, along with his first novel, an epic of the Aztec empire.  In 1940, when Trotsky is assassinated, Shepherd leaves Mexico, spooked by newspaper articles denouncing his employers and friends.

The story unfolds through Shepherd’s diaries and letters as well as actual newspaper cuttings that reflect the selectively reported half-truths and lies used to justify hatred towards “them”: first the fascists, then the Reds.  And it seems anyone can become one of “them.”

Media madness and political upheaval follow,  then Violet arrives in Shepherd’s life to help record his stories.  She chances across a new gap – a long-vanished diary, Shepherd’s excuse for not finishing a memoir.

The Lacuna is multi layered, beautifully written and for me a joy to read.  Though some have struggled to get into it, I recommend you persevere and partake in this extraordinary journey through wonderfully depicted characters, and the conscious landscapes of Kingsolver’s world.